The Obama administration is finalizing an agreement with the Philippines that will allow the US to deploy more troops and weapons in the archipelago nation. The deal avoids the contentious issue of establishing permanent bases and instead will have more US troops using Philippine bases. Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, the head of Pacific Command, said the US is seeking access that will enable it to help the Philippines in its defense as well as to aid in responding to disasters. The US maintained large military bases in the Philippines for nearly a century, but the last one, Subic Bay, closed in 1992. Subic Bay is today a "special economic zone," but the former base is still used by US military ships. The deal comes as President Obama has publicly weighed in for the Philippines in its maritime border dispute with China. (NYT, Digital Journal, July 13; NYT, June 8)
The deal also comes amid escalating violence in Mindanao, ironically precipitated by a pending peace deal with Islamist rebels. Six were killed July 13 in fighting near Guindulungan between Philippine troops and renegade militants who oppose the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's negotiations with Manila. The gun-battle was set off when militants of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) ambushed an army truck.
Talks with the MILF are underway in Malaysia, with terms recently reached for sharing revenues from mineral exploitation in the new autonomous region of Bangsamoro. Under the peace deal, slated to formally signed in 2016, the local autonomous government would receive 75% of taxes collected in the Bangsamoro, as well as 75% of income from metallic minerals. (AFP, GMA, July 13)
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Moro militants mix it up in Mindanao —again
Philippine authorities said that MNLF commander Nur Misuari had accepted a cease-fire, raising hopes that talks could end a five-day hostage crisis in which insurgents have held more than 100 people in the port city of Zamboanga. The standoff began Sept. 10 when rebels occupied part of the port, with the apparent intent of hoisting their flag on the city hall grounds to declare their authority over the area. More than 20,000 have been displaced in fighting around the city since then, with 22 killed and 52 injured. (WSJ, Sept. 13)